It used to be said that a lie goes twice around the world before the truth has put its shoes on. Not any more. I arrived in Israel on Christmas Eve 2008, the date chosen by Israel to launch Operation Cast Lead, an attack to end all attacks on Gaza.
The tanks rolled in, killing over 1,300 people, many of them women and children, and reducing their homes, schools and hospitals to rubble. But all I heard from the media was that some Israelis were very, very scared because a few primitive rockets were being sent from Gaza into southern Israel.
Reporters were not allowed into Gaza and Israeli soldiers were banned from taking on mobile phones for security reasons. So the 2008/9 massacre, which included use of the banned White Phosphorus, went un-witnessed and almost unreported. It also failed dismally in achieving its objective, as Hamas survived and the local population’s hatred of their arrogant oppressors burned as bright as the fires which consumed their homes. But for the “international community” it was “out of sight, out of mind”. Business as usual.
What a difference a few years of developing technology can make. The Gaza atrocities are now being reported on a constant basis by eyewitnesses, be they professional correspondents representing major media organisations, or amateur locals under fire. Because all you need is a mobile phone and a Twitter account.
It is those devices which brought us heart-rending images – some too horrific to be shown on television – of children with their limbs or half a head blown off. Children covered in shrapnel wounds screaming for dead parents; surviving parents carrying tiny bodies. Sights which caused the battle-hardened BBC correspondent Lyse Doucet to sob during a live broadcast.
They are all on Twitter now, should you care to look. This is the shape of wars to come. Anything less than total nuclear annihilation will, from now on, be recorded for posterity by the victims, as well as the victors, in their own versions. Imagine if this was the case in Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur, not to mention earlier massacres. Historians will finally have both sides’ stories to work from, and the evidence with which to back up their words.
But far more importantly, aggressors will have to live with the consequences of their acts, unable to hide behind hollow rhetoric. Because the Israelis had and have nothing with which to balance those images of bloodied, mangled little corpses in Gaza. Yes, as of today they continue to bludgeon Gaza in defiance of the UN Security Council and polite requests from John Kerry to stop. But they never cared about that. On the other hand, mass protests marches from California to Chile are taking their toll.
The Israeli army is getting more resistance online than on the ground. It’s not used to it and cannot cope.